Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

West coast tastes

Early in November I went out to Oregon for a short visit, to hang out with my family and help my mom with house stuff. Obviously, since what my family does is talk/think/obsess about and consume food, we….ate.

The first night, Mom made pizza bianca (from the America’s Test Kitchen recipe, I think), and a lovely cassoulet-sort-of-thing with sausages and beans and bread crumbs, as well as lentils and some other things. Lots of vegetables. Witness:

Since it was a house-decorating trip, Mom and I spent a wonderful day in Portland, where we visited the chains that Eugene doesn’t have (West Elm, Crate & Barrel). Then we headed across the river to The Hawthorne, where we had a killer lunch at Cafe Castagna. Oh man. We had their famous frisée salad, which replaces the usual poached egg with, I kid you not, a deep-friend one. When we saw that on the menu Mom laughed; I famously love anything fried, but to add it to one of the greatest salads of all time? Consider yourself lucky that I snuck a photo while there were still some shards on my plate:

(Oh, their burger was one of the best I’ve ever had, seriously. It comes with waaaay too many delicious fries.)

After lunch I dragged tired Mom around to a few indie shops that I thought would be up her alley. She has very modern, streamlined taste, and we had good luck at Life + Limb and Canoe.

Tom drove me to the airport on my last day, and we had just enough time for a stop at Burrito Boy, a Eugene classic where I have to go every time I’m in town. No visit home is complete without an order of beef tacquitos, served with the smoothest guacamole and a nice sprinkling of cheese.

Now *that* is good pre-flight fortification. I was in a good mood all the way to Salt Lake City.

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NYC interlude

God, I love getting back to NY. We went down a couple weekends ago to welcome Bridge back to the states after her London expedition.

I headed into the city on Saturday and did some very important shopping: Muji, CB2, Pearl River Mart. Met up with Bridge and we wandered around, then Ben met us at our standby, Inoteca, for dinner before Bridge’s party. I stayed over with Brooke and she and Bridge and I went to our favorite brunch place ever on Sunday morning, Clinton St. Baking Co. The wait is insane (2+ hours on weekends) but so are the pancakes. We order a plate for the table and then each get something amazing with eggs for ourselves–I had the Southern Breakfast, with maple glazed bacon, fried green tomatoes, cheese grits and eggs and sigh, now I’m hungry.

After brunch (during which Brooke asked us to be bridesmaids!!!) Brooke had to go to work, so we split off and Bridge and I went to The New Museum before I left to catch my train. The museum is really, really cool, and they have an amazing event space and terrace on the top floor.

Bridge tries out her iphone camera:

Not a bad view:

My favorite thing was looking at all the terraces/roof decks/fire escapes down below:

There is amazing pixelated tile “wallpaper” in the bathrooms downstairs:

I took the train up to Stamford and Ben met me there (coming from LI) and we had a nice visit with the Herberts before heading home. Lovely!

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Chair rehab

I am ashamed to think about, let alone admit, how little I’ve been cooking lately. I didn’t expect to experience the usual rush of activity come September, but we definitely have nevertheless. I hope in the next couple weeks that we can get back into a normal schedule and work our way through, say, the 900 bell peppers in the produce drawer. (A major upside to the CSA: Since I’m getting such very, very fresh produce, it lasts forever in the fridge! I know we should be eating it as quickly as possible but at least not much has gone to waste.)

There have been a few interesting additions to the apartment lately, so in lieu of any food today I thought I’d share some of the excitement. Part one: The chairs.

We went to Brimfield at the beginning of the month, wandering out around noon for the last day of the fair. I was a little overwhelmed but had chosen to make it a scouting trip so that next time I didn’t have newbie jitters. For the most part I picked up a couple random bits and bobs: a gorgeous antique L-Square with a rosewood handle, a lovely folding ruler, some Czech glass buttons, clothespins, an alphabet block with K (for me), B (for Ben) and T (for Tom) on it…

I would like to make some sort of tufted bulletin board (in rough natural linen) with these someday:

At the very end I found a set of four chairs that I loved and Ben hated. They were super-sturdy and had padded seats so I can cross one leg under me during long dinners without that bony bit on the side of my ankle hurting (this is key for comfort, if not good manners). They were a pale color that I don’t love for our dining room, but I got the guy to sell them for cheap. Then I forced Ben to get on board. My plan is to stain them ebony and recover the seats. Of course, once I got home I started poking around and posted a Good Question at Apartment Therapy and Anna at Door16 and someone else both said they’re probably Heywood Wakefield. I spent a few days agonizing over whether to re-sell them or go ahead and strip them and re-stain them, thus removing pretty much any value they might have had. I couldn’t find any photos of HW chairs with this style of back, and finally I decided I would just go for it.

Here is one of the chairs (I got four):

I took the seats off and put some plastic sheeting on the deck, then started brushing on paint stripper (it’s the slightly-less-toxic orange goo; the guy at the hardware store wouldn’t even sell me the really toxic stuff, not that I wanted it). Once the varnish was bubbled I scraped it with a plastic scraper (later I used a small metal one for narrow spots).



That took a while, but on the flat surfaces, at least, it was super-satisfying. The next day I did some final touch-ups with the stripper, then rubbed the whole thing down with (I think) denatured alcohol. Or Thinner, or something. I will check all the labels at home. That ate away the not-exactly-solvent-resistant gloves I was wearing, so I need to get a pair of good solvent resistant ones before I move on to chairs two through four. After it dried out, I sanded the whole thing.


You can’t really tell from the photos, but after the stripping process the grain of the wood was raised and rough. The sanding made it nice and smooth, though I think there might be some spots where I didn’t really get all the varnish all the way off, especially around the joints.

I am terrified to start staining. I’ve never used stain and everyone says it’s a blotchy nightmare, especially on hard woods like maple (which I think these are), plus once I stain this there’s no going back and maybe I will have ruined a valuable mid-century antique. Agh! But imagine that in a nice dark stain with a fabulous print on the seat! I should go forward, right?

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Birthdays by the Lake

Let’s wrap up this vacation before I leave on my next trip, shall we?

Thursday was Ben’s Birthday!! And it was a big one, though he’s not happy about that. Happy birthday, honey–I love you times 30. (Not that Ben reads this blog. I can write anything I want about him and he’ll never know. His coworkers might, though.)

Our friend Kiki and her kids (they have a house one lake over) joined us for dinner. We grilled sausages and I made sauteed peppers and onions, greek pasta salad, braised baby fennel (…meh) and Ben’s favorite lemon-chocolate tart.

Pasta salad ingredients:

(we were blessed with a decent grocery store a few minutes away–next time we needn’t bring NEARLY as much stuff with us!)

(No finished shot, oops!)

Gorgeous spring onions from the farm:


Fennel–I was improvising and I didn’t get it quite right. Cut up the the bulbs:

Browned them in the pan I’d cooked the peppers/onions in, with a bit of broth to deglaze:

Then roasted in the oven (covered, mostly) for a while. I dunno, they were boring and not quite right. Not like the time I did the ones from the Molly Stevens Braising book.

I spent a while Thursday morning hiding in the kitchen and secretly making Ben’s favorite dessert, the Lemon Chocolate Tart from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. He asks for it all the time, so I thought it would be a good birthday surprise (and I’m really sick of making it now, so that’s it for a while!). It turned out to be the best one yet–I was using a thinner pan than normal to make the curd, which cooked faster than I’m used to, but I think I’d been undercooking it a little because the flavor and texture were better this time.

I got fancy birthday candles before we left, but when it came time to put them into the tart I ran into trouble: They were so tall and the tart is so shallow that while Greta and I (laughing hysterically) got them to stand up while we lit them, the minute I started to move the thing they all started tipping over and dripping wax on my hands, etc.

We blew them out in a hurry and I fished out the little old-school candle holders I’d bought at the grocery store that day. Those were able to stick through into the crust and stayed up a bit better. And the burn on my hand is all healed now.

The next day was MY birthday (and no, I was not turning a special age). Greta made Sausage Balls for breakfast. MMMmmm:

I had awkwardly insisted on cooking dinner that night, because I was holding a secret: Our friends Ann and Chris (the ones we and Chris/Greta went to the lake with last Memorial Day) were going to drive over from Ann’s parents’ place on Friday afternoon to join us for the day. We’d been planning it for ages, and I wanted it to be a surprise for everybody. And despite being tempted to admit the plan, I kept the secret and Chris and Ann wandered down the path from the house while we were all out in the lake after a slow start to the day. It was a wonderful moment, and everyone was so happy. Yay!

They stayed for dinner and I made what I SHOULD have made for Ben’s birthday dinner–the famous Triple Pork burgers, also from Sunday Suppers. Another thing he asks for all the time and that I don’t make often!

But that’s boring, since I’ve shown photos of making them several times already. Here are Ann, Jack and Greta, chilling out:

And the boys, acting ridiculous (yes, they tipped over within a minute of this photo being taken):

Oh, food? Well, it’s certainly easier making the pork burgers with fresh mexican chorizo (as the recipe calls for) instead of the hard spanish stuff I’d had to use previously.

Greta and I had a fairly hilarious time making fresh mayo (eventually aioli to spread on the burger rolls). She’d only made larger quantities, in a cuisinart, and I’d never made it. We did eventually figure it out, though it was tricky with the equipment on hand. Worth it, though, and I’ll be trying again soon.

Poor Ben had some struggles cooking the burgers over a charcoal fire, since he’s used to propane, but once we peeled off the scorched bit (they had the cheese on too early, per the directions, so he couldn’t flip them to keep the cooking even) they were extremely tasty:

We also had another take on the german potato salad I served with the tuna the week before (I added sugar to the dressing this time for some reason: not necessary) and local corn on the cob:

And then after dinner greta slipped away and when she came back it was with freshly baked cornmeal shortcakes covered in strawberries and whipped cream (blended with leftover lemon curd from the tart–SO good)! I was delighted:

And that was that. We packed up and left the next morning–another lake trip over. I can’t wait for next year.

I can’t be too sad, though: In a stroke of Best Husband Ever, Ben got me a ticket to go visit Bridget in London as my birthday gift. And I leave THURSDAY NIGHT!!!! OMG.

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Ok, vacation. Greta and I spent some time before the trip working on a google doc (brilliant) spreadsheet to plan the meals we’d each cook and what groceries we were each bringing. I hadn’t thought of using google docs and it was perfect–I highly recommend them if you’re working on anything like an address list or planning document that a couple people might edit.


We each had a few dinners to plan, plus lunches. For breakfasts we all just had english muffins or cereal, though Greta made her famous sausage balls on my birthday!

Happy times, the lake…

Night one: Kate

I brought vegetables from the CSA–small cavolo nero leaves I had blanched ahead of time, as well as a couple summer squash. I also brought cheese, etc. Greta brought dough, since she makes pizza every friday night. The dough rested at her feet during the 9 hour (lots of stops!) trip up to the lake (Ben and I were glad to have traded the 6 hour drive from NY for the 2 hour drive from Boston), and it was a little odd to work with but tasted fine.

(This one also has basil from my happy plant on the porch!)

We had a big salad, as well.

Night two: Greta
Greta made sirloin tips (marinated in Soy Joy), cous cous and roasted asparagus. I was in charge of getting the charcoal grill going–Dad would be proud of my chimney-use skills, though we never quite mastered cooking on charcoal instead of gas!

It’s important to keep your strength up at the lake, since the days are packed with strenuous activity:

Best Lunch Ever

Ok, fine, we didn’t have the baby for lunch, but doesn’t he look edible with his cabbage leaf hat? That day we actually had grilled hotdogs and cabbage slaw, and it was awesome. (The first full day we were all swimming when we got hungry, and Chris had brought beers down to the lake so we maybe had a beer or two before lunch (yikes) (it was late!) and I tipsily made sandwiches, then put them in a ziplock bag and paddled them out to everyone, floating in floaty-chairs and the canoe out on the lake! Whee!)

Dinner three: Greta

Pork tenderloin in a dried cranberry/red wine reduction, with roasted potatoes.
Delicious. Tender and tangy and luscious. She’s something, that Greta.

Wait, maybe THIS was the Best Lunch Ever

The next day we had a whole extra tenderloin all cooked, and Greta had the brilliant idea to make BBQ pork sandwiches. We got onion rolls and barbecue sauce and OMG SO GOOD.

The boys had gone out sailing and ran into some problems, so we ate around 1:30 and they ate around…4:30? At which point I had another little snack, too.

Night four: Joint effort

We were supposed to eat halibut and other lovely things for dinner, but shockingly no one was really in the mood after the heavy, late lunches. Greta (a veritable font of brilliance) suggested breakfast for dinner, and broke out one of the FOUR 1-pound packages of bacon she’d brought. Ben made blueberry pancakes. I made mimosas. We ate around the coffee table around 9:30.

Um, the four of us ate the entire pound of bacon.

Wednesday we rented an old-school pontoon boat for the day, and rolled like old people in total floating living room comfort. The guys really enjoyed being outside:

Jack was impressed when we went back to the house for panini and salad dockside at lunchtime:

And we all swam a lot:

We ate dinner that night early, at a restaurant in town. Everyone was tired, but Jack and Greta were able to play cards for a while:

While Chris kicked back:

To be continued, with back-to-back birthday dinners…

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No Week 5 CSA box–since I was going to Oregon I had a friend from work pick it up.

Before vacation I picked up two half shares (which is not equal to a whole share, since there are different veggies for each), because we were about to head off to the lake for the week and I wanted to prep as much as possible to take with us.

The goods (Double quantities):
-2 bunches spring onions
-2 bunches cavolo nero (black kale)
-3 eggplants (two long purple; one white–these died a tragic lakeside fridge death, ie. they got abandoned all week in the back of the overstuffed fridge. Eek!)
-4 baby fennel bulbs
-1 pound string beans
-800 more cucumbers (1.5 pounds? 2 pounds?)

When I saw cavolo nero tucked in with the stuff in the Chard box I grabbed it immediately, remembering a variety of delicious things made with the stuff when I was last in Italy with my family. Sure enough, I got home and went to the journal entry for a big dinner we had at Le Lance, a restaurant in Fiezole outside of Florence, and found that Ben’s primi course was a “Risotto allo spazzacamino” with cavolo nero, gorgonzola and cannellini beans.

Some google work turned up a variety of cavolo nero/cannellini combos in Tuscan cooking, and I decided to take advantage of the oddly cool weather to reproduce the risotto in question.

It turns out “spazzacamino” means chimney sweep–I seem to remember Ben’s risotto at the restaurant being colored dark green/black by the kale, though that didn’t happen in mine, and I wonder if that is where the name comes from? (On a side note, there is a gelato flavor called Spazzacamino, which contains finely ground espresso beans and scotch. Wow.) Many of the recipes I found with that in the name contain truffles, though I did find a risotto with the cavolo nero and black beans (no mention of gorgonzola).

ANYWAY, I went with what I’d written down. I cleaned the kale and found that the first bunch was still all attached to the stems:

Which meant there was a variety of leaf sizes–I was, of course, charmed by the tiny ones:

I set aside all the smallish ones to blanch for pizza at the lake, and chopped up the rest of that bunch for the risotto. I also rinsed the beans and, um, opened a container of crumbled gorgonzola from Whole Foods. Sigh. I was at the small one! Options were limited! I still have a lot of this left, even after pizza-making too.

I cooked the risotto about halfway before adding in the cavolo nero. Next time I will put it in right at the beginning, as soon as I’ve put in the first round of broth. I think in the one Ben had the kale had dissolved into it more, blackening the rice. I added the beans almost at the very end, so they just heated up, and stirred in gorgonzola once it was finished. I sprinkled a little on top, too, but next time I’ll leave that off.

Verdict: Tasty but needs tweaking. Kale first, next time!

As a special bonus, when I was flipping through the trip notes I found one of my food sketches, detailing the filling in a series of ridiculously good sandwiches at a foccaceria where we ate lunch a couple times. These are spring fillings but don’t they make you want a foccacia sandwich?

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Hurray! We’re off to the lake for a week with our friends Chris and Greta (and, of course, baby Jack)!!

Greta and I have become crazy people with multiple shared spreadsheets planning meals, groceries and packing lists. The car is about to be fuller than it has ever been. The lake house has internet!! Ahem. So I will try to post over the course of the week.


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